Change -- it is a constant in our lives, whether we like it or not. Some of us fear change; others hope and long for it; and others thrive with change. Some of us would like to change others; some of us would like to make changes in our own lives. No matter what age we are or how we view change, we all confront it at some time and in some way, such as: moving to a new place and making new friends; going to college; having parents or children get divorced, married, or remarried; having a new baby brother, sister, or child; applying for a first job, making a career change, or getting let go from a job; redecorating a room or redesigning a house; wishing that the other person in a relationship would change habits or behaviors.
Whether or not the changes are significant or small, we can all learn to work gracefully with changes. So, let's look at three basic questions:
- How can we change others?
- How do we change ourselves?
- How do we deal with change in any aspect of our lives?
How can we change others?
The honest answer is that we can't. Just because we want others to change does not mean that we have the right to make them change or that they want to change. Bummer, huh? Well, not really. Here's why:
- Believing that we can change others gives us a false sense of responsibility and power. We're taking on a burden that's not ours. We don't need another reason to stress.
- If we did everything for other people, they would never learn their own lessons or gain the strength to live their own lives. We don't want to deprive them of growth.
- Forcing people to change could actually strain or end our relationships with them. They could blame us for making changes they didn't really want to make in the first place.
- Trying to change others simply doesn't work.
- If we try to change others, we are really saying that we don't like or accept them as they are. As a result, they will not want to be around us.
- Or, if they decide to change for us and not for themselves, they are not being true to themselves, and the changes may not be permanent.
- Often, our attempts to change others backfire, and we end up hurting ourselves.
- Change is really up to that individual and to God. We may be able to help others understand a situation differently, but it's up to them to do the work.
- We read in Philippians to "work out your own salvation" (2:12). This does not mean that we work out others' salvations for them.
- Putting our focus on others rather than ourselves stunts our own growth. Jesus taught: "Judge not, that ye be not judged…. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye" (Matt. 7:1, 3, 5). A "mote" is tiny; a "beam" is big. We have enough work of our own to do.
- So what can we do?
- We can see others as God's children.
- We can trust that God is communicating to them.
- We can appreciate them for all the good they do.
- We can create a healthy environment full of love and appreciation in which they feel safe to make their own changes.
- We can work on making ourselves better.
How do we change ourselves?
There are a few issues involved with this question. Sometimes we don't feel like we need to or want to change anything about ourselves -- not because we love ourselves as God's children, but rather because we're blinded by our own egos; we're not seeing ourselves clearly; or we're content with being "good" rather than "great." Some of us may feel as if we don't know how to change old habits, or that when we try, it doesn't really make any difference. Sometimes we may feel like there's so much to change about ourselves that we don't know where or how to start. Regardless of our opinions about changing ourselves, we all can benefit from the following:
- One of the most important steps in making changes is an attitude of willingness. We need to be willing to be like God.
- Knowing that God's nature is absolutely loving and perfect is a good starting point.
- Then, we believe what Genesis affirms -- that God created us in His "image" and "likeness" (1:26). Since we are made in God's complete image, we have everything we need; we are already beautiful individuals who can express God fully.
- When we have the humility to change our views of ourselves and see ourselves as God sees us, we will be inspired and feel renewed. God doesn't see us as incapable of change, as stuck in unproductive habits. God sees us as images of Himself. We can love ourselves as God made us.
- Our real focus, then, isn't on changing who we are; rather, it's on being who God made us to be. As we focus on God, we let go of any images that are not like God and drop old habits or patterns of thought and behavior quite naturally, even effortlessly.
- It's important to encourage and be patient with ourselves if we make mistakes.
- It's also incredibly important to allow God to work in us: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
- When we allow God to fashion and shape our thoughts and our lives, then we will feel transformed.
- Paul writes: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Cor. 3:18).
- Eugene Peterson's translation of this passage is: "Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him" (The Message, II Cor. 3:18).
How do we deal with change in our lives or experiences?
Often there are outside changes that we can't control. Sometimes we don't know how to react to changes, or we wish we could stop them or speed them up. All we have to do is to look at the changes in technology to realize that change is here to stay. Transportation and communication are much different now than they were 100 years ago, even twenty years ago. So, how can we react gracefully to change?
- We're going to have to accept that change in the human experience is a constant and can't be avoided.
- On the other hand, we can take comfort in the fact that God is unchangeable: "For I am the Lord, I change not" (Mal. 3:6).
- We can also have a healthy view of change.
- See changes as opportunities for growth, as learning experiences.
- Take advantage of any opportunity to make ourselves better.
- Look for the blessings in everything.
- We can let Christ lead us through difficult changes.
- Not only was Paul persecuted by others, but he also apparently dealt with a pain or physical problem of some sort. When he asked God to remove it, God responded: "My grace is enough; it's all you need. / My strength comes into its own in your weakness." Then Paul explained, "Once I heard that ... I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness…. I just let Christ take over!" (The Message, II Cor. 12: 9-10).
- If we focus on how a situation is blessing us, rather than how it may hurt us, our mental attitude will be clear enough to handle any problems that change may bring to the surface.
- It's also important for us to be aware of the nature of the changes. For change to be healthy, it needs to be consistent with goodness, beauty, true progress. Change needs to bring us closer to God. If changes are occurring that are taking us or others away from God, we need to "hold fast that which is good" (I Thess. 5:21). Our prayers may lead us to remove ourselves from a situation.
Paul affirms: "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:2). Eugene Peterson illuminates Paul's insight and direction about how to change, how to feel transformed, how to be our true selves as God made us:
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life -- your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life -- and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me…. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. (The Message, Rom. 12:1-3)
Expressing gratitude for what God has done and is doing for us creates the atmosphere of willingness and love, an environment which encourages growth, progress. As we work out our "own salvation," we'll become more God-like. We may even discover that when we change our attitudes, responses, or behaviors, entire situations (and sometimes others) change and become harmonious. What we originally thought was a huge problem no longer bothers us or disappears completely. Rather than worry about change, we can allow God's grace to harmonize absolutely everything in our lives.